Hell-oh again, spring isn’t here yet but I hope it is ready to be sprung from the imprisonment of what has been a cold winter, though I can say the crocuses are flowering, I tend to say they croke but that might more aptly describe when they die back. If you have a garden I hope you didn’t lose too much with all the frost – the geraniums I wasn’t surprised to see looking dead poorly (or possibly just dead) but my broccoli have been looking rather the worse for wear, the body of some plants has shrunk very considerably and one or two have even given up and died. Not quite so much broccoli in the spring time as I thought then…….
Is it science or magic?
I’m not sure, I think I’m on the cusp of a great scientific discovery. I’ve been reflecting further on a piece I wrote in my last Colm and I realised I am, really and truly, at the threshold of an amazing discovery, something which has appeared in books, in films, and in reality only partially. It is something which rich countries like the USA have spent billions of dollars on because of the very considerable military implications. It is not, however, associated with alchemy of old which, inter alia, was trying to turn base metals into gold. But it is something fantasised about in novels, portrayed in film, pondered about by almost everyone at some point or another in their lives. And I, little old humble me (You may be little and old but humble, never! – Ed) with very little effort, and almost no expenditure, has managed to achieve what others have spend quadrillions on, it is really incredible. I would not believe it myself if I had not experienced it.
Of course I have not perfected my technique. I have some way to go yet. Further experimentation is necessary but I have certainly done it more than once, who knows how many times. I don’t want to boast too much either because of partial success but on the other hand I don’t want to hide what I have achieved, hiding my light under a bushel so to speak. So, I can celebrate what I have definitively achieved while realising, and pointing out, the obstacles still to be overcome in perfecting my technique.
So what is it that I am talking about? Invisibility. And how have I achieved it? Ridden a bicycle at night time while lit up with a reflective belt, three lights (one flashing), and armbands (latterly these were also flashing), plus white trainers. And I was invisible to some car drivers – one of which actually knocked me down, and one of which nearly did so – all within the last couple of months. A little bit more experimentation and perhaps I‘ll become totally invisible. Or maybe that will only happen when I get crushed to death - then I would really disappear for good. The USA’s Stealth warplanes have got nothing on me. Maybe I should sell out my secret to the Yanquis and be able to retire in comfort. Whether they’ll be interested in invisible bicycles and bicycle riders though, I have my doubts.
Farewell to an old time warrior
As Rev Ian Paisley announces, age nearly 84, that he won’t be standing again for parliament, I’d like to wish him well in retirement though in fact he has been semi-retired for a while now. I have said plenty of things about him over the last decade of my Colm and I wouldn’t change one dot or jot of that. As an MP he was known to work as hard for his Catholic constituents as Protestant. In the wider political sphere, he did finally leave the Dark Side of highly tribal and sectarian politics though it was a long, long journey of stirring it up – he may have been an armchair (and occasionally hillside) warrior but more than anyone he defined the intransigence of the Troubles, and succeeded in galvanising unionists on the road to nowhere, before eventually seeing the Light. We will not see his likes again – thank God. But part of my mind cannot avoid the ‘might have beens’ of history, and a few words flood into it from a Tommy Sands song ‘The Mixed Marriage’, with the chorus “We’ll get married then…….” – detailing all sorts of improbable events required before a cross-community couple in Norn Iron would tie the knot (some of which have now come to pass, although a Prod becoming the Pope in Rome, or a Catholic sitting on an English throne still remain some way off);
“When Ian Paisley drinks a whiskey
With young Bernadette McAliskey”
- what an image of the past that would have been.
You can’t say there are too many entertaining films about the arms trade, though Michael Moore’s ‘Bowling for Columbine’ was a go at one small part of it. But if you want a fairly amiable and fun 1¾ hours, I would recommend the film Micmacs by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (‘Mic Macs à Tire-Larigot’, in French with subtitles – the idiomatic title could be taken to mean ‘Deep mess’, ‘A lot of mishap’ or whatever). One review I saw pondered about how the main protagonist teamed up with the ‘family’ that became his support team in his project to ‘get’ two rival armaments manufacturers. But it is a fantasy, a comedy/fantasy as the blurb put it, and to wonder how and why things happen is to read too much into it, and try to take too much out of it.
Jeunet throws in considerable visual humour at a number of levels. It’s a David and Goliath film about a bunch of oddballs who gang together to get the baddies. There is a bit of the reality of the arms trade thrown in, to make sure the baddies look bad, in case viewers didn’t know what the arms trade was all about but it’s also a colour film shot in shades of black (arms manufacturers) and white (the oddball good guysngals). It trades on a variety of stereotypes. But if it does make even a few people think “Right, I hadn’t thought about arms manufacturers being such baddies….” then it is useful to the cause of disarmament as well.
Cracking the real arms trade is a tougher nut, but not an impossibly tough one as the experience of Raytheon in Derry demonstrates. Thales in Belfast remains the biggie on the island of Ireland but, as research by Afri, Amnesty International and others show, there is a lot of them and ‘it’ (the arms trade) about. Maybe we need more a bit of the wacky, over the top, humorous skulduggery demonstrated in Micmacs.
Rights and responsibilities
Ah yes, trust a reliable conservative commentator like Eric Waugh (Belfast Telegraph 9/2/10) to attack the idea of a Bill of Rights for Norn Iron on the grounds that with human rights come personal responsibility (the article was headlined, as a fairly accurate reflection of the content, “Rights without responsibilities only create a chancers’ charter”). I must say I quite agree. To talk about rights without responsibilities is quite the done thing these days but it should not be. It’s disgraceful. Let us have a think about what these responsibilities should be.
Perhaps we could start with the responsibility of senior journalists and correspondents, such as Waugh himself, to try to understand the advantages of a Bill of Rights in protecting the rights of the ordinary citizen from unwelcome and unnecessary incursions by the state, and to make sure the state acts competently to respect citizens’ rights. Perhaps we could think of the responsibility of politicians to listen more carefully to people’s views, whether in the UK context coming up to the war in Iraq, or in Northern Ireland before the Hillsborough Agreement between the SuperDUPers and the Sinners. Or even the responsibility of the DUP and Sinn Féin to involve the other parties in their party a little. Perhaps we could think of the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office to think marginally outside whatever box they find themselves in and consider that the people of Northern Ireland have rights beyond narrow ones defined in relation to the sectarian situation (see Editorial this issue) which need protected.
Waugh ends his article by suggesting that, in relation to personal responsibility, “With human rights come social duties. A little preaching on that from the Human Rights Commission would not go amiss.” This is an extraordinary comment for a political commentator to make – indeed it would be an extraordinary comment for an Outer Space Correspondent to make. It is the ‘Human Rights’ Commission not the ‘Human Rights and Social Duties’ Commission and, if it strayed from its remit in a direction he did not like, he would be one of the first to complain. Of course we, as citizens and members of civil society, have duties and obligations. But to attack the need for protection of human rights because those responsible for developments in this area don’t stress ‘responsibilities’ is crass ignorance and a right wing shibboleth. In any case, the development of a human rights culture can and should encourage citizens to take their responsibilities seriously, and it is clear the public support a wide-ranging bill. Right on!
I believe I have shared with you before now the information that I’m a lacto-vegetarian who tries to get most of his protein intake from beans and pulses [I imagine you’ve bean telling us that dozens of times – Ed] [Well, at least I have a pulse unlike some! – Billy]. The British Guardian newspaper ran a couple of extracts from a new book, Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals”. The bits about battery/intensively reared chickens and slaughtering cattle were horrific but nothing really new to me.
Recently I had booked ‘Vegetarian’ in a non-residential institutional setting to discover that the catering staff thought the fact that fish was on the menu meant I was catered for. As I don’t normally eat a big lunch I was happy to eat what else was going without the fish, but the thinking of the catering staff in this instance is fairly typical – fish is ‘vegetarian’. What was really interesting in the couple of extracts from the above book was one specifically about fish and their intelligence; “Fish build complex nests, form monogamous relationships, hunt cooperatively with other species, and use tools. They recognise one another as individuals (and keep track of who is to be trusted and who is not)……..They have significant long-term memories, are skilled in passing knowledge to one another through social networks…..they even have what the scientific literature calls “long-standing ‘cultural traditions’ for particular pathways to feeding, schooling, resting or mating sites.” “
The extract goes on to consider how fish are killed and concludes “Although one can realistically expect that at least some percentage of cows and pigs are slaughtered with speed and care, no fish gets a good death. Not a single one. You never have to wonder if the fish on your plate had to suffer. It did.” So who’s for fish and chips then? It’s a battered cod indeed.
- - - - -
Well, there y’are, I hope you’re surviving the spring schedules of whatever it is you’re surviving, the brighter days are coming and I’ll see you again in another month. It’ll be interesting to see if we get a ‘summer’ this year, who knows. As ever, your disobedient servant, Billy.
is Billy King? A long, long time ago, in a more
innocent age (just talking about myself you understand),
there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train'
and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor
has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write
a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able
to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor
around with you).
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).